When watching hand-made animations, I am always incredulous at the amount of time involved, never-mind the skill, in making the film. No more so than with Lotte Reiniger, who made the first feature length animation film, Prince Achmed, in 1926 using cut silhouettes. There is real beauty in the depth of shadow and the play with light and form, which is still so current. These films relate to Chinese shadow puppet theatre as much as to the shadows on the wall in Plato’s Cave. They have a timeless quality, with a clear link to the silhouetted figures of contemporary artist Kara Walker. It is on my wish list of works to make, though sadly I feel it will be there for a long time. ...more

Jane Harris on Lotte Reiniger
Adventures of Prince Achmed (extract), Lotte Reiniger, 1926. © BFI National Archive.

Jane Harris
on Lotte Reiniger

While intrigued by the capability and future potential of digital animation processes, I am also inspired by the craft of analogue techniques that often set an aesthetic benchmark. The silhouette films of German animator Lotte Reiniger, are just such inspiration, introduced to me by Tom Gallant.  Online, documentation of Reiniger’s works and processes, illustrate how her intricate, paper imaging techniques achieved exquisite visual renderings of chosen narratives.   One being ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’, the oldest surviving animated feature film, completed in 1926 and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

   

There are many parallels to be made with Gallant’s own practice.   His training in traditional fine art print making embraced a number of craft processes and related history, resulting in hand produced paper works that take many months to create.   These works may for example use the fine line of flora and fauna imagery to guide and also disguise, as hand cut lace like layers of paper lead the eye to partially hidden pornographic imagery from mid 20th Century magazines. Painterly tones of skin and human form are displaced by this meticulous process, the imagery unclear until viewed up close, a part of the visual play.

To achieve this new task, Gallant learnt tailoring and pattern cutting techniques and then textile and material construction in order to perfectly realise the transition of his paper works into a wearable material form. Computer drawing and laser cutting made the complex and exacting transition of scale and material possible.

   

The fine fabric surfaces he composed operated beyond the merely decorative role of textiles for fashion, Gallant displayed a skilled approach to crafting digital and analogue methods, subverting the normal process of fashion design.  The balance of craft and technology rendered the highly celebrated collection of materials and fashioned garments, each unique, for Schwab’s (AW/2008) collection.   While almost entirely digitally produced and otherwise impossible without computing, each individual piece bears no suggestion of machine, unusual for digitally constructed works that frequently seemed defined and to some extent confined by their computer generated manufacture.

 

It is easy to forget that in 2D and 3D design terms computing is still young in comparison to established media and in many instances remains complex to use.  However already to an entire generation it will seem as if computing has always ably existed. 

Crafts Council - OnView Online